Skip to main content

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield

"If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moment count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time."
- Commander Chris Hadfield

This line appears in the ending section of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, and in my opinion, this concept is the nucleus around which Commander Chris Hadfield - the first Canadian to walk in space - has beautifully woven the fabric of his days at NASA. I am not particularly inclined towards non-fiction in general, and had picked this book mainly because I had just finished reading Jim Lovell's and Jeffrey Kluger's high-octane Apollo 13 - another work of pure non-fiction, which felt anything but - and going through the brilliant photos and videos tweeted by astronaut Karen Nyberg during her stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of Expedition 36/37 in 2013. In short, I had something of a grounding on what to expect, but as I began and finished the book, I was pleasantly surprised to realise that while space and the exploration of the final frontier were intrinsic components of the chapters, they were certainly not the only things the book was about.

One chief reason I loved An Astronaut's Guide is because there is a constant building and breaking of the romance of space  travel; so much so, that it begins to feel like any other job, like any other life. Don't get me wrong, Commander Hadfield has never, in way at all, belittled his life-long career, but he has put everything in the sparkling perspectives of work, its root and its consequences. Reading his words, brings to light the unknown and unthought-of aspects of the more visible outcomes of space-travel, and the way he describes them - dispassionately and with a slight wittiness - makes it easy to draw parallels in daily, apparently more mundane earthly-existence. Of course, the culmination of the efforts of earthbound workers would probably be a masterpiece of art or a life-saving contraption; for the likes of Commander Hadfield, it amounts to bobbing around in a spacesuit outside the ISS in space, with the ethereal background of the soothing, blue earth. Honestly, being of a worldly disposition, I'm almost ashamed to admit that the latter prospect sounds so much more fun, and that is exactly where the book sets the records straight - space exploration is a job, it needs what any other job needs: copious amounts of passion for the work at hand, enormous patience, competence, diligence, an insane amount of determination and a very, very grounded approach. (I'm sure I'm missing some other pointers too, but these are the ones that stick). 

Despite the instructional tone - which I was a bit wary of when I first began reading - the book is actually delightfully light. It is one of those books which I could happily read page after page without really tiring (provided I had the time), but then of course, I could have barely consumed it all in its entirety. So I took my time about it, and the size of the chapters helped. What also helped was the descriptions of the training procedures and the life aboard and around the ISS, which simply by definition, are a world apart from ours. There is also a smattering of personal interactions and observations, though most of the book is largely clinical, and only aims to bring forth a learning or two from myriad events. 

Another big plus - especially for laymen like me - is the absolute simplification of jargons. Jargons make me nervous, unless I have at least a hazy idea about them. In An Astronaut's Guide, the hatch of the airlock or the docking module are modelled on everyday items like manholes and barbeque components, which makes it all the more easier to visualise them and then appreciate the import of the situation. 

Most importantly however, the reason I will recommend this book to anyone who would listen to me, is the amount of hope and inspiration it generates. It is bound to touch you, mostly because of the familiarity of the situations. One can sense the pride in the words, of a sterling career and an incredible experience, and as I read through, it felt nice to realise that such a situation is not exactly utopia. What's more, I can do it for myself, by myself. 

Besides all the psychological impact, there is of course the astronaut's side of the story - beyond the back-breaking training and constant staying-on-the-toes, there is that unique avenue of adding value by engaging in something as thrilling as flying into space. I believe the book also, if not mostly, is a shout-out to the benefits of space exploration, and a part of my mind is already regretting the fact that I never considered that as an occupation. 

In fact, even while I write this, I realise that it might be a good idea to re-read it a few weeks later, maybe even slower this time. Given that there is no element of suspense, that shouldn't be a problem too. Meanwhile, I'm quoting below something that Commander Hadfield has mentioned in the book and which particularly struck a cord with me...

'"My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I'm luckier than other mortals, and they sure don't come from visualising victory. They're the result of a lifetime spent visualising defeat and figuring out how to prevent it.

Like most astronauts, I'm pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I've thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That's the power of negative thinking."

Image courtesy www.; Quotes taken from 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth' by Chris Hadfield. 


Popular posts from this blog

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

Top 10 books to read when you are depressed

Books are handy weapons to stave off blues - be it the dregs of the Sunday evening or a nasty bout of flu. When you are depressed, it takes herculean efforts to shake off the feeling. And I'm not even talking about the more severe, clinical form of depression. I can't get myself to pour myself a glass of water the day after Diwali; on Fridays on the other hand, I am the epitome of eternal sunshine. For such moody, dull days, these top 10 books are the surest way to dust a little sparkle in your life.
1) Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog): This is Jerome K. Jerome at his absolute best. It was published some 130 years back and is still capable of eliciting raucous laughter. It is the honest journal of three young, bumbling flatmates and their dog on a river cruise. Look out for some meandering, pedantic pages, but they offer some relief from the relentless humour. 
2) James Herriot'sDog Stories: If you love animals (and dogs, in particular), this is the ultimate…